The painting Study After Velazquez was intended as part of a series of Popes for an exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in September 1950. Following a crises of confidence, Bacon withdrew and destroyed the canvasses he had been working on. A number of works in the series, including this painting, re-emerged in the late 1990s, and are considered among the finest of his output. Before it re-emerged; it was often reproduced, tantalizingly, from a black and white photograph.
The folds serve to emphasize the figure's isolation, and were drawn from devices used by in the late 19th century, which Bacon described as "shuttering". He said that, to him the device meant that the "sensation doesn't come straight out at you but slides slowly and gently across".